Here’s a disclaimer – I freaking love Valentine’s Day. I always have. Maybe it’s because my parents always gave us kids cards and little treats. Maybe it’s because in elementary school everyone had to give everyone cards, so for one day I got to pretend like all the popular kids knew who I was. I may never know why, but I have never been sad to be single on Valentine’s Day, even when I was freshly dumped, because I just loved an excuse to tell people that I loved them. My best Valentine’s Day was in 2013, when I was single and I lived in Yosemite National Park and people just wandered by my employee housing unit and I made them Valentines out of construction paper on the spot. A few stuck around and we ended up listening to Jack White’s “Love Interruption” over and over while drinking whiskey and getting louder with each rendition.
I am, however, very cynical about commercialized Valentine’s Day. I mean, just think about an actual box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get and 95% of it is god awful and I don’t want to put it in my mouth. The reason I love Valentine’s Day is because I think love comes in many forms and all of them should be celebrated, but I will forever resist someone telling me what exactly love looks like.
Love, Guaranteed kept showing up on my Netflix suggested for the last few weeks and I added it on to my list, specifically thinking that I should write something relevant on my blog. It had the promise of a decent rom-com, but then again, the bar is so standardized for rom-coms that it’s hard to fall short.
Expectations are everything. When you put on a romantic comedy, you know exactly what you’re getting yourself in to. They are cathartic, and some of us (like me!) enjoy throwing on a classic, wonderfully tacky rom-com every once in awhile. There is no shame, and I will not apologize. They’re good if I need a cry, or if I need to feel cynical and superior and mock them. They’re great when I need my faith in humanity restored, or when I need reassurance that the standard for movies is, in fact, dropping. They serve whatever purpose I’m in the mood for.
In that way – Love, Guaranteed is a winner, covering every conceivable rom-com trope. There’s a cute woman (played by Rachel Leigh Cook) and a man (Damon Wayans Jr.). Susan, a lawyer who works for free because she has a heart of gold, drives a car that’s portrayed as a junker (and even has a tape stuck in the tape deck that only plays the same 80s love song! The volume knob is even broken – it cannot be controlled!) even though this “junker” car is such a cute classic that there is zero chance that car could ever exist and not be lovingly restored by an enthusiast and worth more than a pro-bono lawyer could afford. Nick, a PT doctor who helps clients who couldn’t otherwise afford care, has a heart of gold and an undisclosed but tidy amount of personal wealth. They don’t like each other at first but eventually come to love the idiosyncrasies they find in each other.
The one major issue that I had with this movie was the feeling of tokenism – it’s hard not to wonder why they cast a black male lead and named his character Nick Evans, possibly the whitest name after “Chad”. This movie is a bunch of romantic tropes strung together with tired dialogue and the only thing that makes it stand out is the inclusive cast. Seeing people of color play characters with white names in a movie written by white women and directed by a white man makes me feel like I’m watching a Christmas commercial with a couple token people of color thrown in, advertising for a company run by white men in a commercial written and directed by white people.
On the other hand, I have to say it was also nice to see representation in the romantic comedy genre. It wasn’t doing any big moves for civil rights in the storyline but it did take strides in normalizing interracial relationships, which is something a huge portion of our country still seems to have trouble wrapping their minds around.
So while my initial instinct is to berate the tokenism and the tropes, part of me wonders if the two go hand in hand and actually leave a good impact. It’s 2021 and an interracial couple is still rare enough in movies and television that seeing one surprises me and makes me wonder if the movie is making a statement. If more movies like this, kitschy flicks that transport us out of our own lives for 90 minutes, have diverse casts, maybe we’ll actually make moves towards an inclusive world. All in all, they could have done better, but they still did OK. (Next up – let’s try to normalize lesbian relationships in holiday themed rom-coms without including many of their worst nightmares and/or traumas as comedy material)
In all honesty, I would recommend that you watch this movie tonight. It will serve you, wherever you are in your life. Do you want the warm fuzzies? Oh, they’re in there. Are you unhappy in love right now and want a good cry? You can find one in there. Do you delight in cynicism and want to mercilessly mock a movie? This one is so predictable you know exactly what’s going to happen in the first twenty minutes, grab your popcorn and settle in. Do you enjoy rom-coms? This has every single trope that you love. Are you looking for something to throw on in the background while you have sex tonight? Perfect choice, missing the entire middle part of the movie will in no way detract from your Valentine’s Day Experience. Maybe Love, Guaranteed will never be considered a masterpiece, but it’s exactly what you expect it to be, and there’s something to be said for reliability.